Tag Archives: humour

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

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This elegantly written book shows just how connected we all are.  Here in Thunder Bay, it’s common to discover you have something or someone in common to almost everyone you meet.  The “one degree of separation” phenomenon is understandable in a city the size of ours, but could it work in the metropolis of New York?  This book proves it can, and one incredible dress is the touchstone that unites a group of nine diverse women.  It’s appropriate that the dress at the centre of this book is an iconic little black dress.  The dress takes on a mantle of magic as it fills a specific need for each woman that wears it.   The dress is created by a pattern maker at the end of his career, so it’s special as soon as it’s made.  A fresh off the bus model has the privilege to wear it first, and is an instant star.  After that the dress becomes the main character of the story.  Rosen gives the nine women their own chapter and voice, as their lives intersect with the dress. The dress works its magic in the lives of a Bloomingdales sales girl, a private detective, and a personal assistant, among others.  Rosen’s writing is a delight to read, and helps keep all the stories straight.  Readers discussing this book online have shared their own stories of life-changing moments, revealing that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

 

Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer by Antonia Murphy

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dirty chick

From time to time, we all imagine abandoning our current lives and completely starting over, unfortunately for most, this remains nothing more than a dream.  For author Antonia Murphy and her husband, Peter, changing their lives completely became a priority when their son, Silas, was born with global developmental delay.  Murphy, a San Francisco native decided that moving to the small New Zealand community of Purua, and becoming farmers would give them the time and support they needed to help Silas. Being a writer, Antonia chronicled the highs, lows and improbable disasters that occurred in their first years as farmers.

The image that Antonia had of a peaceful farm existence was shattered almost immediately, working with the chickens, goats, sheep and other farm animals was loud, dirty, hard and frequently disgusting . With no experience, Antonia and Peter relied on books, which were usually wrong, and their neighbours, who knew better, to guide them.  Their neighbours and the other residents of Purua are mixed lot; some come from generations of New Zealand farmers, some are traditional Maori and others are new arrivals like themselves.  Some of the funniest and most embarrassing portions of the memoir deal with the Murphy’s attempts at socialization.

The animals on the farm are as much characters in the narrative as the humans.  In the first pages of the book we meet, Pearl, the family goat, Lucky, their runaway cow and Quakers, a sex obsessed duck, just to name a few.  Each is painted with its own personality and watching the family try to deal with their charges is at times, hilarious, frustrating, illuminating and sad.

The book moves quickly and Murphy is a likable narrator; strong, honest and willing to laugh at herself.  The memoir, like life itself, moves from laugh out loud funny situations to moments edged with sorrow and I was particularly moved by the care, acceptance and support the community gave to Silas.

Three Anonymous Limericks

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poetry tile

There was a young woman named Kite,
Whose speed was much faster than light,
She set out one day,
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

Poems, what a silly thing.
They’re meaningless and boring,
Pointless and rhyme.
Who wastes their time,
Thinking up ludicrous writing.

There once was a grumpy dog,
Who ate all the world’s frogs.
He put the planet on riot,
And France on diet,
Then began to rid the hogs
.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

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The Rabbit Back Literature SocietyIs Jääskeläinen a writer writing about writers writing? In some ways, yes, but that would just be the tip of the iceberg in this irresistible, playful and, at times, weird and dark story.

The town of Rabbit Back in rural Finland is not your average hick town. It is home to the enigmatic Laura White, creator of the Creatureville series of children’s books, from which ubiquitous replicas of her fictional characters creepily inhabit every nook and cranny in the town. White also established the Rabbit Back Literature Society, a group of ten precocious children recruited and trained by White to be great writers. After the mysterious disappearance of the Society’s most promising and brilliant member, the group, twenty years later, is made up of nine, successful, middle-aged writers who, for some uncanny reason, avoid each other at all costs.

Ella Milana, a substitute Finnish language and literature teacher has a short story published in Rabbit Tracks, called “The Skeleton Sat in the Cave, Silently Smoking Cigarettes.” After this, she is received, to everyone’s surprise, as the much-anticipated tenth member of the Society. At her welcome party, Laura White strangely disappears off the face of the Earth in a literal whirlwind of snow. This sets Ella off on a path of investigation to find answers to such questions as: What happened to Laura White? What’s with the inexplicable virus altering the storylines of the town’s library books? What really happened to Ella’s predecessor? What killed Ella’s father? and What’s with literally all of the town’s dogs besieging fellow member, Martii’s, house?

This is a wonderful romp of a book that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Jääskeläinen doesn’t explain everything, but that’s not how this novel works: you’ll still come away feeling completely satisfied at having read a witty, original, totally crazy story.

Rosemary Melville is a Library Technician for the Thunder Bay Public Library

Where the Moon Isn’t, by Nathan Filer

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Where the Moon Isn't‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

Nathan Filer’s Costa prize-winning first novel is clever, engaging and highly original. This quote from the blurb sets the tone for the whole story. The main character, Matthew Homes, is a 19-year old sectioned schizophrenic, whose frank description of his own life is both endearing and heart-rending. The novel is his “writing therapy” which he jokes is just another meaningless bit of psychiatric jargon, like “patients” suddenly being called “service users”. Then there is the annoying proliferation of pharmaceutical promotional mugs, pens and booklets littering the Day Centre, which to Matthew is as good as being in prison and having to look at adverts for locks all day.

These are clearly reflections of the author’s own experience. Filer was a mental health nurse and has undertaken research in the area of psychiatry. He well understands the endless repetition and mind-numbing boredom of institutionalization.The Shock of the Fall

It is this insight, as well as Filer’s exceptional and imaginative skill as a writer, that renders the story so engaging. We learn from the beginning that Matthew is in some way responsible for the death of his older brother, Simon, who had Down’s syndrome. The close relationship he had with Simon, the guilt he feels for his death, and the pernicious, all-consuming characteristics of his disease are what drive his writing. Everything is creatively presented using different fonts and drawings, and includes sections where he talks directly to the reader.

By the time I’d finished reading, I wanted to go right back and start all over again. The book was originally published in the U.K. as The Shock of the Fall.

Rosemary

 

Lucifer by Alexander Kosoris

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LuciferCoverFINAL-200x300Local Thunder Bay author Alexander Kosoris has just released his debut novel entitled “Lucifer”.  “Lucifer” is a darkly comic novel about the life of everyone’s most feared entity, when he was simply another angel working in the Research and Development department for God’s corporation in Heaven.  All is going well for Lucifer as he works diligently on his role in the developing the human personality for the “creation” project.  It’s not that he doesn’t have problems; he’s a little antisocial, fidgety and shy. Slender with red hair, Lucifer doesn’t have flair of the important angels like Nathaniel or Michael from marketing, but he believes everything is okay.  His world changes when he is summoned to God’s office on the ninety-six floor, and asked by God to rebel.

Once he accepts God’s request, change happens rapidly for Lucifer. His first attempt at rebellion, “casual attire day” at work, doesn’t go well, but as Lucifer strives to fulfill God’s request, he begins to grow and evolve.  The separation between Lucifer and the other angels, including his friend, Raphael become evident as Lucifer starts to ask questions and challenge the status quo.  Despite moments of what could be madness as he experiences new emotions and radical thinking, the reader finds it easy to sympathize with Lucifer as he struggles follow God’s request, all the while feeling he’s grown past the need for God.

At 167 pages, it is a quick and enjoyable read but it still proposes some interesting questions about faith and the traditional creation story. Questions like “why did God put the “tree of Good and Evil” in the Garden of Eden?” or “if God is omniscient why didn’t he know that Lucifer would rebel?” among other imponderables will quickly pop to mind. The novel follows in the comic tradition of Neil Gaiman’s “Good Omens” or “Lamb” by Christopher Moore and I look forward to Alexander’s next effort.

 

 

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

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one-plus-one-jojo-moyesWhile a favourite in Britain, it was only last year with the publication of “Me Before You”  that author Jojo Moyes became a recognized name on this side of the Atlantic.  “Me Before You”,  is the story of a caregiver, Lou, with nothing but a jest for life and her patient, Will,  a paraplegic with every material advantage, who only wants to die. The novel ended up on so many best of the year lists,  that her next books met with a storm of publicity.  Her followup novel was a World War One French occupation story combined with the contemporary tale of a young widow, in  “The Girl You Left Behind” , and her most recent novel is “One Plus One”.   Her latest novel follows the adventures of Jess Thomas, her math genius daughter Tanzie, her sort-of stepson Nicky, who is being regularly bullied by a group of vicious town thugs, and their odoriferous dog, Norman.  Jess has been raising her children on the meager wages earned by working as a waitress and cleaning houses for a living in a seaside community composed of the wealthy vacation home owners and the struggling populous who actually live there.  Money is tight at the best of times, and Jess’s long gone and dead-beat husband does nothing to support the children.   An amazing opportunity comes for Tanzie to attend a prestigious private school due to her outstanding math abilities but Jess needs the to contribute 500 pounds to make it happen.  At the same time as part of her cleaning duties, she meets Ed Nicholls, a multimillionaire technology wizard, hiding in his vacation home  while under investigation for insider trading. All Jesse needs to do is get the kids and Norman to Scotland, so that Tanzie can win the money in a Math Olympiad, so through circumstances bordering on the absurd, Ed finds himself ferrying the family on their quest.

The novel runs the gamut from silly to sentimental, and from romantic to poignantly bittersweet.  Each of the characters grows and develops throughout the novel and its a book that emphasizes the importance of the family dynamic as much as it does the  developing  central love story.  Moyes is a rare writer who can be enjoyed by everyone, while not being typecast as writing a single genre of book.  I will be looking forward to whatever she tackles next and catching up on her back catalogue.